Day 6: Zafra to Villafranca de Los Barros (19 Kms)

Way marking leaving Los Santos

This morning Robin awoke to a pain in her knee. Having worked through similar situations on other caminos we opted to shorten today’s walk. We grabbed a taxi to Los Santos de Maimona. This would chop off about 4 Kms. I shifted some things from Robin’s pack to my own to ease her burden, and off we went. We were greeted with another clear warm day as the taxi wound through the “morning rush” in Zafra. In a blink we were being dropped of in the Plaza de España in Los Santos de Maimoa True to what we have noticed to date the Camino path was well marked. We gingerly tested legs, knees et al to get a sense of how the day would go. Once underway Robin’s knee seemed to fall in line and we moved off to the north under reasonable control.

As we moved into the countryside we popped our umbrellas and set our focus on Villafranca. The day was still and warm. Even the raptors making lazy circles over distant fields seemed to be weighing the energy required to score a bit of lunch. It was just one of those days. We walked through lot’s of olive orchards today with branches sagging under the weight of ripened fruit. A few guys were beating some trees to death to get them to release their bounty, but only a few. Maybe the torpor convinced others to simply stay home. It was pleasant and enjoyable walk. The trail was blessedly easy on our feet, and we were very thankful for that. Still moving along at good walking speed we arrived in Villafranca’s Plaza de España. We were casting about looking for a place to stay when a guy hollered at us from a small bar kiosk in the plaza. He pointed to an Albergue Touristico just a couple of doorways up the street. In we went. 20 euros for a private double and the laundry is being done (some extra charge for that). I am in the plaza typing this up while Robin is resting her knee. We are looking at shortening stages until we get to Mérida. At that point we will have a better feel for what needs to be done to make Santiago. All is good. Another gorgeous day on the VdlP.

Los Santos
Looking back

 

Day 7: Villafranca de los Barros to Torremejia (27 Kms)

View from the outset

Today’s walk, at 27 Kms, was a bit more than we wanted to try until Robin’s knee started feeling better. So we headed out into the early morning half light to find some breakfast. At the Hotel Diana, a few blocks from our albergue, we got a bite to eat and asked the bar lady to ring a taxi. With breakfast tucked away a cab appeared and we were off to rejoin the Camino just east of the village of Almendralejo. This would pretty much chop 14 Kms from today’s stage. Our driver knew exactly where the VdlP connected to the road we were on, and dropped us off just where we wanted to be. After a few moments of slinging and adjusting our packs, we were underway. It was a quiet, perhaps even lonely, intersection that we departed from, but in short order we were transported back to our purpose and felt once again that unique peace of being on the road to Santiago. The terrain we encountered was simply flat, dead flat. Olives and grapes seem to be the dominant crops. As we made our way along the Camino tractors worked away tending surrounding fields. Older tractors driven by older men seemed characteristic of the area.

Our destination just visible in the distance

Our boots crunched the gravel underfoot and the kilometers slipped past. It took some time for painful joints to loosen and get with the program, but in the end they did just that and delivered us to Torremejia, our destination for today. This is a farming community where tractors outnumber cars. We found lodging at the Albergue Touristico. We have booked room, breakfast and dinner. This comes to 51 euros for a double room. We met Giselle our French peregrina friend just as we were finishing lunch. She is spending the night here as well. So far it is only the three of us. Today the temperature gave the first hint of a coming change. We started out in Seville in the 80’s, then moved into the 70’s, and this coming week temperatures will finally slip into the 60’s. It is near mid November and the feel of autumn is almost in the air. Tomorrow we will hoof it to Mérida. As the distance is only 15 Kms we should be able to manage that. Our hope is that after a few of these short days Robin’s knee will be strong enough to resume somewhat longer distances. We shall see. We are having a great time of it and feel blessed we are still moving forward. All is good.

Home for the day

 

Day 8: Torremejía to Mérida (16 Kms)

Stepping into the light

Yesterday as day slipped into twilight we noticed the church door opposite our albergue was open, so off we went to have a look. As it turns out the local priest was preparing to say mass. Robin and I lingered on the well worn pews offering our prayers and reflections. At 7:00 pm the mass began. It was wonderful to have this quiet time as a beautiful way to conclude another day on the Via de la Plata.

We wound up with only 4 in our albergue last night. The evening temperatures have been in the mid 40’s F and this makes for great sleeping weather. Once dinner was done we sat up for awhile with Giselle, our French peregrina. After we turned in Christian a young German guy arrived on his bike. He has been cycling all over Spain and Portugal and is now headed back to Santiago. Lights out shortly followed. Breakfast was a self serve affair with most of our attention drawn to the somewhat counter-intuitive coffee machine. After a few floods we finally figured out how to make a cup of coffee. As we slipped out the door the tractor parade was well underway. Much work apparently needed to be done in the nearby olive groves and vineyards and the local menfolk were off to do it. For Robin and I it was also a new day, and we happily turned northward towards Mélida and simply started walking. On the road again.

Let’s get moving I’m cold

Today’s 16 Kms walk was short, half on asphalt and half off. We enjoyed the cool start to the day. It was 45 F as we started out, but it quickly rose into the low 60’s F and topped out around 70 F. It was a sort of transit day. One of those days where not much is expected except arriving at our destination. As always it was quiet except for the highway portion. But once off the road it was still enough that our footfalls brought tight brownish clouds of small birds into the air and sent them swirling off in search of a quieter place to roost. That was about the extent of today’s excitement. Not bad actually. We walked mostly in silence deep in our own personal thoughts. In this quietude we found ourselves approaching the Roman Bridge that would carry us into Mélida. So it was up onto the bridge and straight ahead to the Plaza de España (every Spanish town seems to have one) where our hotel, the Hotel Mérida Palce stood waiting. Robin did quite well and we are hopeful that her knee is slowly healing. No swelling, so that is good. Off tomorrow for another short day (15 Kms) to Aljucén where a Roman bath awaits us. All is well.

Roman Bridge
Rumor has it the Romans were here

 

Day 9: Mérida to Aljucén (16 Kms)

Turn right

Another brilliant Camino morning greeted us as we left our hotel and headed across the Plaza de España, which still harbored puddles from an early morning wash down. We made our way along the cobbles and back to the a Roman Bridge where we picked up the yellow arrows, turned hard right and headed out of town. It has been a great stop as well as an engaging look into this city’s Roman past. Truly fascinating. The morning air still had a bit of a chill to it that kept us moving quickly along. Just when we were sure we had parted ways with Mérida’s ancient past we rounded a corner and found ourselves staring at the magnificent ruins of a Roman aqueduct. It was stunning in the early morning light, and reminded us of how many surprises Mérida had provided us. What an absolutely wonderful city.

But all good things pass and before long we were hoofing along through the city’s less interesting suburbs. We picked up the road which we would be following for half the day and were pleasantly surprised to find a dedicated bike/pedestrian path alongside of it. Very nice for car weary pilgrims. Last night’s attacks in Paris had occupied the morning news and we felt saddened and somehow adrift in a world gone mad. We will talk with our French companion, Giselle, tonight at dinner and offer our condolences. The day moved along, as did we, eventually raising the reservoir and the rural path beyond it, and then the small village of Aljucén where we would be spending the night. We checked in then rounded up Giselle and headed off to, yes, a Roman bath. Well, not a real (old) Roman bath but a replica of sorts. Who would have thought that such a thing would exist in this small very rural town. A young Spanish couple had an idea and the result was Agua Libera. We had a great long soak and then took to reclining on couches with goblets of wine. It was a somewhat crazy, but fun distraction. But was also an interesting and relaxing way to end a Camino day so filled with conflicting emotions. I would love to wake up to a saner world in the morning but sadly that is not likely. So we shall do what we do and just continue walking nurturing whatever thin thread of hope we can find that violence can somehow be overcome.

Our pilgrim highway
Embalse de Prosperpina
Church along the way

 

Day 11: Alcuéscar to Aldea de Cano (15 Kms)

Our night at the Benedictine Monestary in Alcuéscar was surprising. The hospiitalero, who spoke quite good French (according to Giselle) as well as Spanish, told us that dinner would be served at 7:30. We thought this would be a very simple meal, but not exactly. It was just the four of us at table, Robin, myself, Giselle and our hospiitalero. He wheeled in a cart that had everything on it. It had large platters of macaroni with meat sauce, grilled pork, salad, garlic soup, cheese, fruit, and bread. Only water was served to drink (sorry this dropped a star in the rating). It was a great meal that took us off to bed with with very full stomachs. Our room was a tiny cell with two beds and a sink. Our down sleeping bags provided the necessary warmth, and off to sleep we went.

Bullring

We were let out at 8:00, and crossed the street to a restaurant for a coffee and some toast. That set us up for today’s short walk to Aldea del Cano. We picked up the arrows that led us past a very small bullring and out into the countryside. It was an easy walk but somehow both Robin and I lacked yesterday’s energy. Who knows? Nonetheless we moved along following the twists and turns (no ups and downs) passing Roman bridges and millarios (mile markers) until we raised Aldea in the distance. We angled off the Camino into town (a very quiet town, BTW), and after a bit of walking around knocked on the door of a Casa Rural and there within found our beds for the night. There is an albergue just as you enter town. The key can be found at the Restaurante Las Vegas just opposite. It seems as though there has always been at least one albergue open so far and usually it has only been occupied by one or two of our group traveling together. Pretty much like private lodging. Tomorrow we will reach Cáceres and hold up for an extra day’s rest. Quiet day today but quite pleasant. Clothes are on the line drying and we are taking a short siesta (at least I will be once this is posted).

Looking back this morning
Stopped for a chat
Cases de Don Antonio
Millarios
Almost there
Aldea Del Cano
Home for tonight

 

Day 12: Alde del Cano to Cáceres (22 Kms)

It was a very quiet night in Aldea del Cano. We ran into Hans, one of two other pilgrims now walking in our group, at the one local restaurant open in Alde. He was just arriving and we were just heading out for something to eat. As would likely happen we shared a couple of beers and agreed to meet later on. Our room for the night at the Casa Rural Via de la Plata was quite good. Breakfast and laundry were included in the 50 euro price. Hans checked into the albergue for 6 euros and had the place to himself. He picked up the key at the restaurant (Restaurante Las Vegas). So we whiled away a couple of hours with Hans and that was that. We all headed off to our rooms at around 7:30 hoping that sleep would come quickly. It didn’t (at least for me). At close to 1:00 am I think I went under.

Morning came and Robin and I went through our usual pre-departure ritual. This morning we added a semaphore lesson as we tried to get the automatic light sensor to sense we needed some light as we headed down for coffee and toast. Once that hurdle was conquered all went smoothly and we had another on time departure as we stepped out the door exactly at 8:00. The town was still asleep as we made our way through the morning fog out to the Camino where we turned right and set out for Cáceres, 22 Kms to the north.

Into the fog

The fog stayed within seconds all morning making for some interesting photos. It was cold at 40 F and we broke out buffs and gloves to counter the chill in their air. We walked along watching things appear out of the fog ahead and then quickly disappear as the fog rolled them up behind us. We were in a small cocoon of limited visibility that moved with us as we inched along. At one point I was sure I saw some houses ahead (fog does tricky things). As we moved closer my mystery pueblo turned out to be a herd of sheep. Continuing on in the fog we actually crossed an abandoned airfield. The ghostly mist enshrouded hangers and buildings seemed to echo life in an world now long past. We moved on and the mist closed up behind us entombing the airfield once again. At about the halfway point the sun finally won out and the fog lifted. We grabbed a sandwich from a gas station along our route, and continued on to Cáceres where we arrived at our hotel at 1:45. It was a good day and Robin did well so that made me happy. We are now sitting in the bar at the Parador debriefing today’s walk. Some things never change. Santiago is now one day closer.

The mystery pueblo
Robin on the runway
All roads lead to Cáceres

 

Day 13: Cáceres to Cañaveral (43 Kms)

Waiting for our ride in Cáceres

This morning we sorted out a plan to avoid walking 43 Kms today. This change in plans arose from the fact that the one hostal open in Embalse de Alcántara, our next stop, was fully booked by fishing enthusiasts. So we taxied to Casar de Cáceres (11 Kms) and then walked to Cañaveral (32 Kms) instead. It turned out to be a challenging, but doable day for us. Breakfast at our hotel started at 8:00 so we were a bit late getting underway. But we still managed to waive goodbye to our taxi driver at the Camino trailhead in Casar and get moving by 9:40. The clear weather in Cáceres slowly dimmed as pockets of fog and mist gradually moved in to embrace the trail leaving Casar. But, nonetheless we were off, and happy to be moving northward.

Today was a two part story. The first part was picture perfect Camino conditions. Our morning walk temperatures hung steady at 50 F. The trail was packed gravel road which made for very easy walking. As there were no other pilgrims with us today we took advantage of what we had, which was cows, and sheep. We enjoyed their innocent gaze that followed us as we moved by. Why are you staring at us? Never seen a pilgrim before? I guess it was just a slow news day. We moved along passing through farm gate after farm gate until we raised the reservoir. This is where the second part begins. We took a small detour around a highway construction project and wound up on the N 630 highway. We pounded that pavement for, I’m guessing, 6-7 Kms. This eventually brought us across the Tajo River and past the hostal where we had hoped to spend the night, but no room at the inn so onward we went in search of Cañaveral, 11 Kms further on. Just past the hostal we moved off the highway and back on trail but it was quite rocky, and stayed that way until we were about 4 Kms from Cañaveral where it smoothed out. At 5:15 we arrived at the Hostal/Albergue Cañaveral, tired but okay. As we checked in we met a new Camino friend from Korea. I explained that Robin was also from Korea and soon I couldn’t understand a word being said. Her name is Hae and she is going as far as Zamora. Dinner followed and bed soon after. It was a good day. We shall see what tomorrow will bring.

Leaving Casar de Cáceres
Another Roman millarios (mile marker)
Cañaveral